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Australian English
Felicity Cox
Speech Hearing & Language Research Centre
Department of Linguistics
Macquarie University

Sallyanne Palethorpe
Macquarie Centre for Cognitive Science
Speech Hearing & Language Research Centre
Macquarie University

Australian English is a regional dialect of English which shares its phonemic inventory with
Southern British English through the historical connection with the dialects of the British Isles
(in particular London) in the late 18th and early 19th centuries (Cochrane 1989, Yallop 2003,
Leitner 2004). Speakers of present-day Australian English are typically those who are born in
Australia or who immigrate at an early age when peer influence is maximal.1 Such speakers
fall into three major dialect subgroups: Standard Australian English, Aboriginal English
and Ethnocultural Australian English varieties. Standard Australian English (SAusE) is the
dominant dialect and is used by the vast majority of speakers. It is a salient marker of national
identity, and is used in broadcasting and in public life. The Aboriginal and Ethnocultural
varieties are minority dialects allowing speakers to express their cultural identity within the
multicultural Australian context (Cox & Palethorpe 2006, Clyne, Eisikovits & Tollfree 2001).
The purpose of this paper is to provide a description of the main features of SAusE.
Like all spoken dialects, sociodemographically and stylistically significant accent variation is
present in the community. Such variation is chiefly associated with vowel realisation, however,
connected speech processes and suprasegmental characteristics also play an extremely
important role (see for instance, Ingram 1989, Tollfree 2001). The specific detail of these
sociostylistic variations present in the dialect will not be offered here as much more work is
still required before a solid empirical picture of such variation can be presented. The accent
variation that is present amongst speakers of SAusE has traditionally been described with
reference to a continuum of broadness, ranging from the most overtly local form (Broad)
through to that which bears some resemblance to Received Pronunciation of British English
(Cultivated) (Mitchell & Delbridge 1965). Over the past 40 years, there has been a gradual
movement of speakers away from the extremities of this broadness continuum (Horvath 1985)
reflecting recent sociocultural change in Australia including post-colonial independence and
sociopolitical maturity. The majority of younger speakers today prefer to select speech patterns
from the central or General part of the broadness continuum (Harrington, Cox & Evans 1997).

The term Australian English has previously been used more restrictively to describe the dialect of
the primarily Anglo-Celtic population of Australian speakers (Cox 1996). In this paper we take a more
inclusive approach and use the term Australian English more liberally to apply to the dialects of all
speakers who are born in and grow up in Australia. The term Standard Australian English is considered
a sub-class of Australian English and refers to the majority dialect which contrasts with the other
Australian English dialects: Aboriginal English and Ethnocultural varieties.

Journal of the International Phonetic Association (2007) 37/3



Journal of the International Phonetic Association

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Journal of the International Phonetic Association: Illustrations of the IPA

By global standards, SAusE displays relative regional homogeneity which may be the
result of quite recent white settlement but may also reflect national identity as a stronger
psychosocial influence than regional affiliation (Blair 1993). Recent analyses have, however,
revealed some minor regionally distributed contextual variation such as the probabilistic
occurrence of vocalised /l/, pre-lateral and pre-nasal vowel modifications, and certain other
vowel characteristics (see, for instance, Oasa 1989; Cox & Palethorpe 1998, 2004; Horvath &
Horvath 2002; Palethorpe & Cox 2003; Butcher 2006). The speaker on the accompanying
recorded example which forms the basis of the transcription below is a 31-year-old male who
was born in Victoria but now lives in Sydney.







p b


f v

PostAlveolar alveolar
tS dZ


k g







Consonantal features have been studied far less rigorously than vowel features (but see
Ingram 1989 and Tollfree 2001). This is because the consonants display many of the same
variations present in other major dialects of English. There are voicing distinctions between
stops, affricates and fricatives (except /h/). Syllable-initial voiceless stops are aspirated before
vowels in stressed syllables. Voiceless stops are unaspirated when following /s/ in the same
syllable. In unstressed and in coda contexts, voiceless stops are usually only weakly aspirated
and phase-final codas are often unreleased (Ingram 1989). However, there is variation in
the degree of aspiration with some speakers inclined to quite strongly aspirate voiceless
stops in these contexts, and spirantisation with little closure may also occur, particularly
in formal style (Tollfree 2001). Nasal and lateral release of stops preceding homorganic
nasals and laterals within or across word boundaries is usual. Syllable-final /t/ preceding an
obstruent is typically unreleased. Flapping and glottal reinforcement2 of alveolar stops occur

We use the term glottal reinforcement to refer to the addition of a glottal gesture along with the
supralaryngeal gesture such that the supralaryngeal gesture is not obscured. It does not refer to the loss of
supralaryngeal gesture and apparent replacement with a glottal stop (glottalling). We acknowledge that
the two processes may be from different parts of a continuum involving the relative timing of laryngeal
and supralaryngeal gestures.

F. Cox & S. Palethorpe: Australian English


variably according to stylistic requirements or speaker-specific idiosyncratic patterns and

are not usually obligatory (Ingram 1989). Flapping of /t/ and /d/ is tolerated in intervocalic
position word-internally preceding weak vowels (as in butter [b|], water [wo|], ladder
[l|]) and across word boundaries (as in get out [ge|Ot],
. ride on [Ae|On]) (Evans 2003).
Flaps may also occur for /t/ before syllabic /l/ and /m/ (as in cattle [k|:`], bottle [bO|:`],
bottom [bO|m`]) and before unstressed vowels following /n/ (Tollfree 2001). Glottal stops may
function as allophones of /t/ (glottalling) in syllable-final position before syllabic /n/ and other
non-syllabic sonorants (for example, button [b/n`], cotton [kO/n`], butler [b/l], light rain
[lAe/I n] or not now [nO/nO]) (Tollfree 2001). It is very unusual for glottal stops to replace
/t/ intervocalically, before syllabic /l/ or /m/, or in pre-pausal position. Glottal reinforcement
(glottalisation) of voiceless stops is, however, often found, particularly in syllable-final nonpre-vocalic environments, and is commonly accompanied by laryngealisation (Tollfree 2001).
For unreleased phrase-final stops, voicing is determined primarily by preceding vowel duration
because voiced stops do not typically display periodicity during closure except in intervocalic
environments. When final stops are released, the separate closure and burst durations of
voiceless stops are greater than for voiced stops (Cox & Palethorpe 2006).
/l/ is realised as [:] in pre-pausal and pre-consonantal positions and is often dark before
a morpheme boundary preceding a vowel. There is some suggestion that AusE onset /l/ is
more dorsal (i.e. darker) than other varieties of English (Wells 1982) although this is yet
to be empirically tested. /l/ vocalisation may occur for some speakers in pre-consonantal,
syllable-final, and syllabic contexts in words like milk [mIUk], hurl [hU] and noodle [ndU]
(Borowsky & Horvarth 1997, Borowsky 2001). Vocalisation has the effect of reducing the
contrast between certain V and VC syllables such that howl [hO:] and how [hO] may become
homophonous (Palethorpe & Cox 2003). There is also a regionally distributed pattern for this
variant with proportionately more speakers from South Australia using vocalised /l/ (Ingram
1989, Horvath & Horvath 2002).
The palatal approximant /j/ is present after coronals before // (as in new [nj]) and when
/j/ occurs in alveolar stop or fricatives clusters, yod coalescence typically results such that
tune [tj( n] [tS n], dune [dj( n] [dZ n] and assume [sj( m] [S m]. Palatalisation
may vary stylistically for some speakers and may also act as a social marker (Horvath 1985).
/r/ is realised as an alveolar approximant [] with a voiceless allophone occurring in clusters
initiated by a stop or fricative. Approximants are generally devoiced following voiceless stops
and fricatives but devoicing does not occur when stops are preceded by /s/ (for instance, prey
[p9e], but spray [spe]). /tr/ and /dr/ clusters are typically affricated. SAusE is non-rhotic
as it does not contain pre-pausal or pre-consonantal /r/. However, in connected speech, linking
/r/ (far out [f Ot] [fOt]) is typical, both within words and across word boundaries.
Intrusive/epenthetic /r/ (draw it [do t] [dot], draw [do] drawing [doI N]) is also
commonly found. There may be a recent change in progress towards repressing /r/ sandhi as
part of a more generalised development affecting the liaison rules that have typically been
used for hiatus-breaking of two separate adjacent vowels. Such repression of sandhi involves
the substitution of a glottal stop for previously common liaison elements. For example, the
egg [Di(j)eg] [D/eg], to eat [t(w)it] [t/it]. No empirical investigation of this
phenomenon in SAusE has occurred to date.

Harrington, Cox &
Evans (1997)







Journal of the International Phonetic Association: Illustrations of the IPA




F. Cox & S. Palethorpe: Australian English


The symbols in vowel-space figures and in the left-hand column of the vowel table are from
Harrington et al. (1997). This is a revised symbol set for SAusE which was developed
to indicate phonetic properties of the vowels more accurately than the earlier system
recommended by Mitchell (1946). The Mitchell (1946) transcription system for vowels more
strongly reflects a British rather than an Australian standard due to its historical origins (Clark
1989, Durie & Hajek 1994, Harrington et al. 1997, Ingram 1995). The revised symbol set
adheres to the IPA principle of selecting symbols to represent phonemes that are closest to the
corresponding cardinal vowels. It also allows for a more representative picture of SAusE vowel
sounds and can provide a solid basis for a detailed phonetic transcription of the variations
that are present in the speech community. No detail of the range of phonetic vowel variations
present in SAusE is given as this is beyond the scope of the illustration; however, according to
Harrington et al. (1997), Broad speakers differ from General speakers primarily with respect
to the first element of the diphthongs. In particular, Broad speakers have a more retracted
first element of the /Ae/ vowel (e.g. high) and a more fronted and raised first element of the
/O/ vowel (e.g. how). Another vowel that varies systematically with broadness is /i/, as in
heed. This vowel typically displays onglide (delayed target) in SAusE giving it a diphthongal
quality [ i], however the extent and duration of the glide varies considerably and is generally
more pronounced amongst the broader speakers (Harrington et al. 1997). In SAusE, /i/ occurs
in word-final position in city [sIti]/[sI|i] and happy [hpi].
Short vowels are approximately 60% the length of long vowels and diphthongs in standard
/hVd/ contexts (Cox 2006). Length is explicitly indicated in the transcription system used
above as it has contrastive status for some pairs of vowels (for example, // // as in cart
[kt] versus cut [kt] and /i/ /I/ as in bead [b id9] versus bid [bId9], although this pair
also has an additional onglide contrast present in /i/ as discussed above). The loss of centring
glide in many contexts for the centring diphthongs has also resulted in a length contrast
between /e/ /e/ as in bared [bed9] versus bed [bed9] and /I/ /I/ as in bid [bId9] versus
beard [bId9]. /I/ (hear [hI]) and /e/ (hair [he]) have starting points similar to /I/ and /e/,
respectively, and, for younger speakers, are often long monophthongs (particularly in closed
syllables) or diphthongs with a variable centring glide. It is not uncommon for /I/ and /e/
in open syllables to be produced as a disyllabic sequence incorporating a full vowel and an
unstressed second syllable which has variable realisation often approaching [], for instance
in hear [hI] (Harrington et al. 1997). The centring diphthong /U/, previously occurring in
pure and sure, is infrequently found in the speech of young people and has therefore not been
included in the list of phonemes. Words such as pure are typically produced with a disyllabic
structure [pj(], and /o/ is used in words like sure [So] resulting in a homophone with shore
[So]. There are some, mainly older speakers, who do continue to use /U/.
Schwa has not been indicated owing to its contextual phonetic variability. However, it
occurs as the most common vowel in unstressed syllables and does not functionally contrast
with /I/ in this context. Words such as rabbit [bt], carrot [kt], roses [zz9] and
Rosas [zz9] all include schwa in the second syllable.
Vowel qualities displayed in the formant plots in figures 13 are based on observations
of five young adult males from Sydney. The monophthong plot is from vowels in the /hVd/
context and the diphthong plots are from vowels in the /hV/ context. /hV/ has been used for
diphthongs to prevent the potential coarticulatory effect of /d/ on the second target.
Various pre-nasal and pre-lateral vowel effects are common in SAusE. // as in coat
[kt] becomes [Oo] before velarised /l/ (coal [kOo]). Therefore, words like dole [dOo]
and doll [dO] contrast primarily by vowel duration rather than quality (Palethorpe & Cox
2003). Retraction of // often occurs before [] so that pull [pU] and pool [pu] become
differentiated primarily by length whereas in non-lateral contexts such as whod [hd] and
hood [hUd] there is an additional fronting contrast. The retraction of // before /l/ is considered
a regionally distributed feature in SAusE (Oasa 1989), but recent change in progress has seen
an increased use of this variant among younger speakers generally, thereby reducing the
strength of the variant as a regional marker.


Journal of the International Phonetic Association: Illustrations of the IPA

Figure 1 Monophthong vowel formant plot based on citation form /hVd/ words from five male speakers.

There is a further regionally distributed effect for /e/ before [] which is lowered so
that hell and Hal become homophonous for some speakers from Victoria (Cox & Palethorpe
2004). Epenthetic schwa occurs when long high front vowels and front rising diphthongs occur
before velarised or vocalised /l/, as in words like hile [hAe ] and heel [h i ] (Palethorpe &
Cox 2003). In pre-nasal environments, variable raising of // (and the first element of /O/)
may occur such that can [k)n] approaches Ken [kE)n] but retains the length of the lower
vowel (Cox, Palethorpe & Tsukada 2004).

There has been much interest in the increasing occurrence over the past 30 years of the
intonational device known as the high rising terminal (HRT) or tune in Australian English.
The HRT is considered a sociophonetically marked intonational pattern associated with
declarative utterances which has a particular collaborative function in discourse structure. It
may be present in the speech of both males and females (McGregor 2006) but it is important
to recognise that HRT users also employ standard falling and fall-rise tunes (Fletcher &
Harrington 2001, Fletcher, Stirling, Wales & Mushin 2002, Fletcher, Grabe & Warren 2004).

Transcription of recorded passage

Broad phonemic and narrow phonetic transcriptions are provided. The broad transcription uses
vowel symbols from the revised transcription system of Harrington et al. (1997). The narrow
transcription provides more detail of allophonic variation and connected speech processes
that occur in Standard Australian English.

F. Cox & S. Palethorpe: Australian English


Figure 2 Diphthong formant trajectory plot from target 1 to target 2 for the vowels /I/, // and /oI/ superimposed onto the
monophthong vowel space. Values are from citation form /hV/ words from five male speakers.

Broad transcription
D "noT "wInd n D "sn w ds"pjtIN "wItS wz D "strONg, wen "trvl
"kIm lON "rpt In "wom "klk. DI "grid Dt D "wn h "fs
sksidd In "mIkIN D "trvl "tIk hIz klk "Of SUb bi knsIdd "strONg
Dn Di "D. Den D "noT "wIn "bl z "hd z hi "kUd bt D "mo hi "bl D
mo "klsli dId D "trvl "fld Iz "kluk "rOnd hIm nd t "lst D "noT
"wInd "gIv p Di "tempt. "Den D "sn "SOn Ot "womli n "miditli
D "trvl "tUk Of hIz "klk. n "s D "noT "wInd wz "blAedZ t kn"fes
Dt D "sn wz D "strONr v D "t
Narrow transcription
D "noT "wI6nd ) n1 D "s)n w dIs"pj(|IN "wI6tS w9z D "st 2O)Ng, we))n "t 29v`
"kI )m lO)N "p}t I )n "wo)m "kl 9k. DI "g id1} Dt1} D "w)n h "fs
s6ks idd I)m "mIkIN) D "t 29v` "tIk hI 6z9 kl 9k "Of SUbi k)nsI6dd9} "st 2O)Ng
D)n1 Di "D. De)n1 D "noT "wI6n "bl z9 "h| z9 hi "kUd bt1 D "mo hi "bl D
mo "kl 9sl9 i dId1} D "t 29vl "fOoUd Iz9 "kl 9uk "O)nd hI)m ) nd t "lst D "noT
"wI6nn "gIv p Di "te)mp}t. "De)n1 D "s)n "SO)n O/ "wo)ml i ) n )"m i|i/l i


Journal of the International Phonetic Association: Illustrations of the IPA

Figure 3 Diphthong formant trajectory plot from target 1 to target 2 for the vowels /O/, /Ae/, /I/ and /e/ superimposed
onto the monophthong vowel space. Values are from citation form /hV/ words from five male speakers.

D "t 29vl "tUk Of hI6z9 "kl 9k}. ) n "s D "noT "wI6nd wz "blAedZ t k)"fes
Dt1 D "s)n wz D "st 2O)Ng v D "t
We are grateful to JF for providing the voice for the illustration, to Chris Callaghan for recording the
speech samples, to Helen Fraser for early discussions about this illustration and to John Ingram and
Andy Butcher for their valuable comments and insights.

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